The first New Play Workshop of this summer season embodies one of Chautauqua Institution’s most treasured values: connection.
Proximity explores that theme and other related common threads found in playwright Harrison David Rivers’ past works.
“I’m really interested in intimacy and closeness and connection and so this play, I think, hits the nail on the head,” he said.
Performances are set for 2:30 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, and at 7:30 p.m. Sunday in Bratton Theater.
In past years, Chautauqua Theater Company has historically opened with a mainstage production. This year, with the continued support of the Roe Green Foundation and under the direction of Producing Artistic Director Jade King Carroll, CTC brings Proximity – a play inspired by a conversation between Rivers and a friend from college – to the stage for the first of three New Play Workshops before launching performance runs of Kate Hamill’s Pride and Prejudice and Mike Lew’s tiny father. This year, additional matinee performances of mainstage productions are set for 11:30 a.m. during their runs.
This weekend is the first time CTC Conservatory Actors and Guest Artists take the stage; Proximity is a romantic comedy that contemplates and explores the social impacts of the COVID-19 lockdown.
A newly divorced mother of two, Ezra, played by CTC Guest Artist Lori Laing, meets another parent, Irie, played by fellow Guest Artist Kalyne Coleman, at a virtual PTA meeting. As Ezra searches for connection in an increasingly isolating world, she begins to reevaluate her isolation bubble.
Laing said she looked to the mothers in her life for inspiration in her role, examining how they interact with, support and use their creativity with their children.
“ … It means a lot to me to be playing Ezra because I want to do them justice,” she said. “I know how dynamic they are as individuals and how even more dynamic they are marrying that former individuality with who they are as a mother now.”
Coleman said Chautauqua’s grounds and quiet environment are a source of inspiration that has helped her hone her craft.
“Because Chautauqua is so beautiful and so peaceful and so free, I feel like it invites me to be free within my process, it invites me to just get down to the truth of the thing,” she said. “I think that’s something that makes this experience so different because of what we’re walking out into – it invites more play and more freedom.”
Rivers said the play will undoubtedly resonate with all who were, are and will continue to be impacted by the pandemic.
“I think it is very specific – it’s mining the specific, mining the intimate, the small, for some sort of larger universal meaning, truth, revelation,” Rivers said. “For me, a lot of the best writing right now is tiny. It’s a moment and the way in which that moment cracks people open in a huge way and causes a shift or a change.”
To Rivers, the agency he’s been given in shaping the direction of Proximity has been one of the most valuable attributes of the New Play Workshop.
“The best thing about the process so far is how much trust has been given to me as the lead artist in the room to proceed with this workshop in whatever way I feel is best for the play and for myself,” he said.
Rivers said he’s also found the wealth of experience and perspective the cast brings to Proximity to be tremendously valuable, along with the grounds of the Institution as an inspirational component.
“This is a great place to be thinking about storytelling and artmaking and the impact that that could have on the world,” he said. “The venue itself, the location and the way that it’s been set up, it just sort of breeds creativity.”
Coleman said she hopes audience members will contemplate how they are showing up in the relationships that mean the most to them and how they can strengthen their relationships not only with others, but with themselves.
“I hope that they come out being curious about self and about community in a way that’s fruitful,” she said.